Amazon Echo Plus is a smart speaker programmed with Amazon's artificial intelligence assistant app called Alexa to control home appliances such as TV and lights through human voiceAmazon Echo Plus at MID Base Tower Residence, Yokohama, Japan - 22 Nov 2017

Direct-to-consumer players such as Away Travel and Warby Parker have inspired major change in shopping behaviors. One-third of consumers plan to do at least 40 percent of their shopping from D2C companies in the next five years, while 81 percent plan to make at least one purchase from a D2C brand.

This disruption means a mix of things. It’s true that retail is increasingly about the branded experience and decreasingly about channels — all channels now have digital components, which is why the buzz term “omnichannel” is losing steam. At the same time, D2C successes have revolved around their burgeoning e-commerce businesses, underscoring how it’s crucial for retailers to serve customers while they shop at home on their laptops and smartphones. Here is a trio of new, smart ways D2C brands are driving in-home sales.

Alleviate stress from difficult purchases

Buying furniture stresses folks out. It’s hard to know for sure if a couch or bed is right for a room spatially, you don’t want to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars and then feel like you made the wrong choice, you have to hire movers, etc. D2C brands Houzz and Furnishr want to make all of that stress go away.

These services allow you to furnish your whole home — from living room furniture and beds to rugs and lamps — without leaving the home. One of their interactive features allows you to upload your floor plan to your account and then situate items on the screen before you make your purchase decision. Houzz’s AR-powered iPad and iPhone app, in particular, lets customers visualize 300,000 different products in their home. The app users are 11 times more likely to purchase, and they engage with the brand three times more often than other viewers. With Furnishr, a consultant will even schedule a phone call to help you walk through the choices.

Amit Sharma 

After finishing your order, Houzz and Furnishr deliver the items to your front door, unpack them, do whatever assembly is necessary, put them where they belong and take away the boxes and other wrappings. Within about three hours of the moving team’s arrival, your home is complete and you can get started living your new digs. They are all about designing a home without leaving your couch, and nine-year-old Houzz is valued at $4 billion.

Give them control over the experience

Since launching in 2014, fashion retailer Glossier has developed a cult following by keeping its customers in mind at every point of interaction. As one example, the brand offers free and easy returns, encouraging customers to try their products at home and send back what’s not working for them. These features not only make life more convenient for Glossier’s customers, but they also empower shoppers by giving them more control over their experience. Such offerings can only positively impact brand loyalty.

Further, e-commerce players who make returns easy can win new customers and keep existing customers happy. In fact, 96 percent of consumers would shop with a retailer again based on an easy returns experience.

Take your brand on tour

With a Made in America storyline, men’s clothier Buck Mason isn’t trying to reinvent fashion but aims to refine the classics. The five-year-old company has tapped into a demographic of men looking for quality casual attire — such as cotton, button-down shirts, cardigans, jackets and T-shirts — that lasts longer than cheaply made items seen in big-box stores.

What’s more, the company understands that if you want your brand to appear across customers’ wardrobes, you should connect with them in real life to give your brand more personality. Buck Mason has a few stores in its hometown of Los Angeles and a couple more in New York, but that’s it. So, it’s created The Open Road, a 1997 GMC school bus that acts as a touring pop-up store, making stops in cities like Nashville, Dallas and Atlanta.

The bus is painted white and says “Jeans and Tees Sold Here” in black font on the side where the name of a school once appeared. There’s more than merchandise on the 150-square-foot vehicle; it has furniture and a dressing room. With the bus, Buck Mason takes its customer experience off-line and personalizes its brand by having a temporary, local presence. To customers, the brand is about as cool as a touring rock band.

It’s all about the home

When patrons leave that bus, they’ll go back home with either new products in tow or a better idea of what they are going to order next online from Buck Mason. It’s an intriguing example of how channels are being blown to smithereens while our homes are really the center of our retail universes. With smart speakers like Amazon Echo and smart screens like Google Home becoming more prominent shopping channels, the home shopping phenomena will only grow. Not to mention that same-day delivery will become a more regular part of our retail process — from clothes to electronics to groceries.

In this emerging world, the post-purchase capabilities of a brand will become most important. That is why Glossier’s easy return policy is a winner, and it’s why sending timely alerts about order statuses is of greater significance.

All told, these D2C brands should inspire legacy retailers and entrepreneurs alike about how to win the future of retail. Their strategies are leading to purchases in the customer’s living room — and sometimes even furnishing it.

Amit Sharma is chief executive officer of Narvar.

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